Synthetic muscles set for work out on International Space Station

Astronauts are due to test a synthetic muscle that could give future space robots more agility.  The artificial muscle, developed by polymer chemist Lenore Rasmussen from the US Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Lab (PPPL), was part of the payload launched this week aboard an International Space Station (ISS) re-supply mission. On arrival at ISS, the synthetic muscle, which adheres to metal electrodes, will be subject to periodic assessments.

It is believed that these synthetic muscles could enable the development of more dexterous robots for space exploration, which will better mimic the natural body movements of humans.

Lenore Rasmussen examines a titanium coupon used in her synthetic muscle being treated in an oxygen plasma at PPPL

“We can’t explore space without robots,” Rasmussen said in a statement. “The humans can only withstand a certain amount of radiation so that limits the time that people can be in space, whereas robots, particularly if they’re radiation-resistant, can be up there for long periods of time without being replaced.”

Rasmussen patented her synthetic muscle, which expands and contracts like a human muscle and is made of a gel-like material called electro-active polymer, in 1998.

Rasmussen’s challenge has been to get her material to adhere to metal electrodes, which need to be implanted inside the gel in order to control its movements.

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April 17, 2015



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